The Power of Names: A Rambling Post

I told myself I was going to write today.  Actually, I told myself I was going to write on Wednesday since I had the day off.  In typical fashion, this has not happened.  Today I went as far as open a blank document, and have it sit next to me, accusing me with its blankness since about 9ish this morning.

This is going well, obviously.

However, even if I’m not writing I’m at least reading.  I just finished rereading the Earthsea Quartet by my hero Ursula Le Guin.  And then I moved on to C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew which took all of an hour-ish to read.
The combination of the two has done funny things to my head, but the most obvious side-effect was  that I went rushing to the Husband’s Bible and found this quote which I knew I remembered from a decade or more ago, back when I was a good little Jewish girl in Hebrew school:

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. [Genesis 2.19]

From Earthsea I came away with the intense belief in the power of names, and from The Magician’s Nephew I was awash in Genesis allegory.  Little wonder I had to connect the two.

Naming has always been associated with power, with domination, and fantasy often likes to use that as the pretext for magic.  Man named the creatures; they did not name themselves. We name children, pets, each other.  But names are external, coming from sources outwith the name-bearer; the namer has that power, not the named.

It’s not hard to see why we’ve been obsessed with the power of names for centuries.

I often feel as though fantasy reaches back towards established mythology as authors seek to bring in familiar ideas into unfamiliar terrain.  To justify the fantastic as something solid, realistic if not real.  So there we find the biblical allegory, the use of creation myths and heroic sagas.  And the same way that scholars can keep writing new treatises on these centuries-old traditions, so can authors bring new life and new perspective.

But I’m still seeking that nonexistent Unique Idea, though I should know better.

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